Cool and wet weather welcomed mountain biking cross-country competitors in Durbanville, Western Province for the opening round of the national XCO series on Saturday 9 February.
According to Cycling SA Technical Commissioner Grevile Ruddock, excellent racing was witnessed across all categories and of particular significance, the victories in the Elite men and women’s groups for Philip Buys and Mariske Strauss, considering there were several international riders competing as well.
For London Olympian Buys, his race started well where he went to the front and opened up a slight gap. But then he experienced problems with his gears and dropped to seventh place, spending a lot of energy chasing race leader James Reid with Ralph Naef (SUI), Florian Vogel (SUI) and Brendon Davids.
Buys made his move on the fifth lap (of eight) when he launched an attack on Naef and Reid, with Naef countering the move but then experiencing his own technical problems as well, dropping back. Reid and Buys rode the final two laps about 30-seconds apart.
“The racing was pretty tight as there was a very big field, I think around 80 riders in my race, so it makes for very exciting racing, especially with the Europeans taking part,” said Buys. “The course handled the rain very well – I normally struggle in the wet, but it seems like I am getting better at it now though. These were great preparations for typical European conditions.”
When asked about the influx in youngsters on the start line, Buys responded: “There are plenty youngsters and they are so keen. I get a lot of messages from them asking me for tips, so the sport is healthy and growing well and there should be no reason for sponsors not to get involved. There was a great spectator turnout as well.”
London Olympian Candice Neethling withdrew from the race due to a sudden ailment, and it was Mariske Strauss who dominated the women’s race posting magnificent times.
After a long absence from the XCO track and spending a year in the United States, Strauss could not have asked for a better start to the season. “I had the most amazing race! I felt good and know that I’ve done my training and my equipment was top notch,” said Strauss of her victory. “My race was problem free and with my awesome supporters and feeders close by, they regularly screamed the time gaps and an abundance of motivational words!”
Racing in her final year in the under-23 age category, Strauss thoroughly enjoyed the track, particularly after the rain. “The rain was perfect during our race and exactly what the track needed. I think it suited me, there was plenty of climbing and it was a very balanced course, never a dull moment. I was always working hard and never really had time to catch my breath.”
Buys paid tribute to the late Burry Stander by noting Burry’s absence on the start line of the race. “There was definitely a sense of emptiness in the front row,” said Buys. “But we are driven to follow in his footsteps and achieve even more. I think many other younger SA XCO racers have this same drive and know now that nothing is impossible.”
Both Buys and Strauss are amongst many South African participants in eager anticipation of the UCI MTB World Champs that will be taking place in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal in August.
Participants will now prepare for the African Continental Championships, which will be taking place at the Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal in a month’s time.
Summary of Results – SA-MTB XCO #1
Pro Elite Men: 8 laps
Pro Elite Women: 6 laps